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Gopher tortoise. Photo by Randy Browning, USFWS.

Federal finding means gopher tortoise status in the eastern portion of its range merits further review

The Gopher tortoise may warrant federal protection as a threatened or endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today, following an initial review of a petition seeking to protect the gopher tortoise in the eastern portion of its range under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Service will undertake a more thorough status review of the species to determine whether to propose adding the species to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.

Today’s decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, is based on scientific information about the species provided in the petition requesting listing of the species under the ESA. The petition finding does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to give the gopher tortoise in the eastern portion of its range federal protection under the ESA. Rather, this finding is the first step in a long process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available.

To ensure this status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting scientific and commercial data and other information regarding listing the gopher tortoise throughout all of its range.

Based on the status review, the Service will make one of three possible determinations:

  1. Listing is not warranted, in which case no further action will be taken.
  2. Listing as threatened or endangered is warranted. In this case, the Service will publish a proposal to list, solicit independent scientific peer review of the proposal, seek input from the public, and consider the input before a final decision about listing the species is made. In general, there is a one-year period between the time a species is proposed and the final decision.
  3. Listing is warranted but precluded by other, higher priority activities. This means the species is added to the Federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred while the Service works on listing proposals for other species that are at greater risk. A warranted but precluded finding requires subsequent annual reviews of the finding until such time as either a listing proposal is published, or a not warranted finding is made based on new information.

Anyone wishing to submit information regarding the gopher tortoise throughout its entire range may do so via one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4- ES-2009-0029; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

We will post all information received on This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us.

Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or endangered species must be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”

Information must be received by November 9, 2009.

The gopher tortoise typically inhabits relatively well-drained, sandy soils and is generally associated with longleaf pine-xeric oak sandhills, but also occurs in scrub, xeric hammock, pine flatwoods, dry prairie, coastal grasslands and dunes, mixed hardwood-pine communities, and a variety of disturbed habitats. Gopher tortoises excavate burrows that average 3 to 52 feet in length and 9 to 23 feet in depth. These burrows, which provide protection from temperature extremes, desiccation, and predators, serve as refuges for approximately 360 other species throughout its range.

The western population of the gopher tortoise, west of the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama then across south Mississippi and extreme southeastern Louisiana, was federally-listed as threatened on July 7, 1987. At the state level, the gopher tortoise is listed as threatened throughout Florida and as Endangered in South Carolina in the following counties: Aiken, Allendale, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, and Jasper.

For more information about the gopher tortoise and this finding, please visit the Service’s web site at

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Visit us online at

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